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Willow holds the key for Irish growth

Willow holds the key for Irish farming to expand aggressively in the future, according to biomass entrepreneur John Gilliland.

The Derry-based farmer believes that if farmers planted 5-7pc of their worst land and water boundaries with willow, they would soon be able to offset the increasing greenhouse gas emissions that would inevitably follow increased output.

"Planting these areas would have little negative impact on farm output because they tend to areas that are difficult to farm," said Mr Gilliland.

"They would be able to soak up nutrients that would otherwise be heading into watercourses, along with providing a natural disease barrier and a source of renewable energy on the farm."

Mr Gilliland believes that dairy farmers could save on their energy bills by installing wood-chip burners to utilise the chipped willow.

He has already been in discussion with Teagasc about establishing a trial on one of their demonstration farms.

Food Harvest 2020 for NI?

It appears that the success of the Food Harvest 2020 report has spawned a similar initiative in the North.

The Agri-food Strategy Board has just been appointed with former O'Kane poultry chief, Tony O'Neill, to chair a 12-strong board of key agri-business leaders, including United Dairy Farmers' David Dobbin, Dunbia's Jim Dobson, Fane Valley's Trevor Lockhart, Owen Brennan of Devenish Nutrition, alongside a number of experienced financial and department advisors.

Mr O'Neill sees no reason why the North's agri sector can't expand by 40pc by 2020.

"This will be led by the meat, dairy and poultry sectors, the latter having the potential to expand by 50pc over the coming year," he said.

Northern Dep of Ag on move

The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) in Northern Ireland is looking at decentralising a total of 800 staff from its current headquarters in Belfast.

While no decision has been taken since December last year, when the idea was first actively considered by the DARD, the 110ac site of the former H-block and Maze prison will be one of the viable options that will be considered by the Northern Irish Assembly.

Indo Farming